Reading Harry Potter May Make You a Better Person
For you few Harry Potter holdouts, Brett Stetka at Scientific American thinks everyone should read the books, especially children.
This is because a research group at the University of Modena conducted three studies to test whether reading Harry Potter books improved people’s attitudes toward oft-stigmatized groups. The study was recently published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.
In the first study, 34 elementary school students were evaluated to determine their attitude toward immigrants (often stigmatized in Italy) and then divided into two groups that read passages from Harry Potter for six weeks under the guidance of a research assistant. The test group read the scenes that describe prejudice (mudbloods, house elves etc. If that doesn’t make sense to you, you should read the books), while the control group read passages without themes of prejudice. After the last session the children who identified the most with the character Harry and read the prejudice-related passages were shown to have significantly improved attitudes toward immigrants whereas the opinions of the children in the control group had not changed.
A second, similar study was conducted with high-school students and demonstrated an improved attitude toward homosexuals in the test group. The third was conducted among university students regarding their attitudes toward refugees with the same results. Identification with the Harry character did not correlate as strongly with the attitude changes in the older students, though it did matter that they specifically did not identify with Voldemort. The authors presume that older students are less likely to identify with the young characters of Harry and his friends.
For skeptics, especially skeptical teenagers, Harry Potter is a wonderful series. Despite the magical storyline, Harry and cohorts (particularly the character Hermione, an excellent female role model), use deductive reasoning and evidence-based thinking to solve their problems. There are, of course, groups who find the themes of witchcraft problematic: according to the American Library Association, the Harry Potter series is the number one most banned/challenged book between the year 2000 and 2009.
That list actually has a lot of great reads on it. Conveniently enough, banned book week is just around the corner, September 21-27, so if you haven’t read the series, this may be the perfect occasion. Who knows, it might even make you a bit more considerate of your fellow muggles.